2nd Battle of El Alamein
Fought from 23 Oct. to 11 Nov. 1942, with just over 1,000 Allied tanks lining up against 547 Axis, this battle marked the end of Axis ambitions in North Africa. Their attempt to take possession of Egypt (and the much-prized Suez Canal) was finally halted and they were denied access to the Persian and Middle Eastern oil fields.
Coming just 2 months after the disastrous Dieppe Raid, victory at El Alamein marked 'The end of the beginning'. After this defeat the Africa Corps began it's long and continuous retreat, which ended in Tunisia with their surrender, some 6 months later.
Tanks (and anti-tank guns) played a huge role in all desert battles, even more so at El Alamein which saw the debut of the Allies (first of two) 'secret weapon', the brand-new US Sherman M4 tank. The British 8th Army had received the first 'batch' of 300 brand-new Sherman Tanks courtesy of the Americans, although only 252 were actually serviceable when the battle started
Up until this time, the German equipment had been superior to the Allies, with one exception = the Lee/Grant M3, which, with it's hull-mounted HE capable 75L31, came as a shock to the Germans (although it's turret 37L56 was said to have better armour penetration than the 75L31 !) However with the arrival of Spitfires and large quantities of Hurricanes, together with the new 6pdr gun and, especially, the Sherman Tank, the Allies finally gained technological equality, if not actual superiority, over the Axis in the desert.
The Sherman was at least as good as the very best of the Rommel's Panzers, the Pz IV-f2, of which he had only 30 !
Since at least half of the Axis armour consisted of relatively poorly armoured Italian tanks (although their 47mm gun was better than the 2pdr (40L52) with which most** of the British tanks were armed), Rommel was at a real disadvantage. The German Tiger, which was being delivered to the Eastern Front at this time - where it was desperately needed to counter the KV-1 (and trash the T34) - was far superior to the Sherman (but that's another story).
**with the exception of the 75mm gunned US Sherman and Lee/Grants and some 76 Crusader Mk-III's and 6 Churchill Mk-III's (all of which were armed with the brand new 6pdr (57L43) gun). In fact, over 65% (about 600) of the British tanks were armed with the almost useless and totally obsolete** 2pdr (40L52) gun. It was only the new 'tungsten capped' (APCBC) ammunition that allowed the 2pdr to penetrater face-hardened armour, however by this stage of the war, most of the Panzers had been 'up-armoured' to a thickness that made them (almost) immune to the 2pdr. Indeed, the 2pdr even had trouble with some of the Italian tanks ** it had been know since the start of the war (1939) that the 2pdr was inadequate, however production of the 6pdr was delayed as each gun was estimated to take 4-6 times longer (than a 2pdr) to produce. After the British Army lost almost all of it's anti-tank guns at Dunkirk, it was reasoned that it was better to re-arm (most of) the troops with 2pdrs, which would have been 'better than nothing' in the event of an invasion, before starting 6pdr production.
When it came to tank/anti-tank guns, the British were always playing 'catch up'. In mid 1942, the British had started producing their brand-new 6pdr (57/L43), whilst the latest German gun, the PAK 40 (75/L46), had first seen action on the Russian front in Apr. 42. The German tank/anti-tank guns were thus at least a whole 'generation' ahead of the British.
The 'king' of the desert guns was the famous 'Flak 88'. Rommel had two battalions, each with 12 88s from the start of 1941. This increased to four in 1942, so he at least 24 and never more than 48 guns in total. It has been claimed that, between them, these guns destroyed over 1,000 allied tanks and other vehicles !
The Flak 88 was an anti-aircraft gun that had been issued with anti-tank ammunition for use 'in an emergency'. However in 1941 Rommel found it to be the only gun that could penetrate the British Matilda tanks front armour, after which the rest of the story is history. It was so effective that it accounted for almost 30% of British tank losses (it could penetrate 84 mm of armor at a range of 2km)
At the same time (1941) as Rommel stsrted using the 88 to counter the Matilda, the British were watching their puny 2pdr ammunition bounce off (or shatter) against the Panzer front armour, so why didn't they press heavier guns into service against the Panzers ?
Well the British 25pdr (87L27) was nearest in bore size (87mm), but it's short barrel (L27) gave it a low muzzle velocity of 442m/s. Whilst the 25pdr was easy to manoeuvrer and setup, it's carriage was too light to support the recoil of a longer barrelled gun. The Flak 88 muzzle velocity was 840m/s (which shows what a massive difference barrel length makes). So a 20pound A-T shell was developed (rather than 25pound HE) which, together with a 'super charge' propellant bag, got the muzzle velocity up to about 600m/s (as opposed to the HE shells 442m/s). However by the time the 25pdr started to receive AT ammunition (in 1942), the 6pdr started to become available = and since the A-T performance of the 25pdr (at 500 yds) was actually slightly worse than the 6pdr (and was ineffective beyond 1000yds, whilst the 6pdr could reach out to 2000yds) in practice the 25pdr remained in an artillery bombardment role.
So what about the British 'equivalent' anti-aircraft gun ?
This would have been the QF 3.7-inch AA (94L50), of which some 10,000 were built (v's about 21,000 Flak88). These guns were also used in an artillery (bombardment) role, however whilst there are recorded cases of it being fired 'in emergency' at enemy tanks, prolonged firing at low elevations (not part of the original specification) damaged the mounting and recuperating gear. It was also inherently unsuitable as an anti-tank gun, being too big and heavy (two tons heavier than the German 88) and so slow to maneuver and setup that it would have been very vulnerable in forward areas = it took at least 15 mins to prepare, whilst the 88 could be fired (from it's wheeled trailer mount) within 2 minutes. However these drawbacks could have been addressed if it's effectiveness in an anti-tank role had been established. What really prevented this happening was 'command and control'. The 3.7 AA guns were controlled at the Corps (or Army HQ) level and they were (only ever) sited for use in the anti-aircraft / artillery role, preventing commanders at divisional level siting them where they might have been of use in an anti-tank role. Indeed, the commanders at the front couldn't even order them to open fire on enemy tanks (should enemy tanks come within a couple of miles, the gunners first thought would have been to start packing up to leave, since they stood little chance of escaping with their guns if they were noticed by the enemy - remember the Axis tanks had HE capability and the AA guns would have been 'sitting ducks'). Most Panzers were capable of at least 12mph cross country, so in the 15 mins it took to 'pack up' the gun, the Panzer would have travelled 3 miles. In this case it wasn't just 'inter-service' rivalries but 'demarcation' (the 'allocation' and 'ownership' of equipment to serve some specific battlefield 'role'), which plagued the British (and prevented the optimum use of much of the Allied equipment). As one British tank-man (taken prisoner in June 1941 after his Matilda had been hit by an 88) complained to his German captors: "In our opinion it's unfair to use 'flak' (guns) against our tanks" ! It was not until 1943 when the 17-pdr (76L55) anti-tank gun became available (it was first used during the Italian Campaign, and fitted to Sherman (as the Firefly) just in time for D Day (6 June 1944)) that the British had anything that could rival the 88 in anti-tank performance (although, as usual, the British gun initially came with no HE capability !).
Rommels main tank was the Panzer III. This had started the war with a 37mm gun, however these were (almost) all replaced with the short 50mm (50L42) in 1940/41. By 1942 it was recognised that this was also inadequate and the Pz III's were now being up-gunned to the long 50mm (50L60), however by the end of 1942, half of Rommels Pz III's still had the shorter gun
The short 50mm (50L42) gun was about*** 'on par' with the British 2pdr (40L52) with which most of the British tanks were armed, whilst the long 50mm (50L60) totally outclassed the 2pdr and was almost as good as the brand new 6pdr (57L43). *** The 50L42 gun had a lower muzzle velocity, but better ammunition whilst the British 2pdr had a higher muzzle velocity but poor ammunition (for at least the first 2 years of the war, the British were not even aware that the Panzer armour employed 'face hardening', so those British anti-tank shells that didn't bounce off simply shattered instead of penetrating).
Overall, the 2pdr probably had the edge over the 50L42 when coming up against the 'average' enemy tank as the Axis forces included a lot of lightly armoured Italian tanks.
'On average' the Axis had (much) lighter armour, while the Allies (which included the Matilda) had, 'on average', rather heavier armour.
Another massive disadvantage of the 2pdr (and 6pdr) gun was it's lack of HE capability - which meant the British tanks were forced to get within machine gun range to take out the German anti-tank (A-T) guns, thus allowing the German gun crews to take on the British tanks at extreme short-range.
As a result, the PAK 36 (37L45) A-T gun, with which the Germans had started the war (but was now 'obsolete'), was rather more effective than it's size would indicate. However it could not penetrate the British 'Matilda' front armour at any range, so the 'charge the guns' tactic had actually worked (or it did until Rommel started using the Flak88) ! But by 1942 the PAK 36 had been replaced twice - first by the PAK 38 (50/L60), and then by the latest German anti-tank gun, the PAK 40 (75/L46)**. ** in 1942, all PAK 40 production was sent to the Russian front (where it was desperately needed to take on the Soviet KV-1 heavy tank, which was otherwise immune to all but the 88), so the Africa Corps had to 'make do' with the Russian 76mm AT gun (76L51.5, or "76(r)" (which had been captured in vast numbers) instead. Whilst the Russian guns performance was inferior to the PAK 40, it was still far better than the PAK 38 (or British 6pdr) Thus, by El Alamein, 'charge the guns' had become a quick way of committing suicide.
The Lee/Grant provided a partial solition, but it's sponson mounted short 75mm was hard to aim. So the Allies desperately needed the 75mm gun (75L37) armed Sherman (which almost put them 'on par' with the Pz IV 75L43 gun) which fired a HE round that could take out the German 37mm, 50mm and even 76mm A-T guns at ranges well in excess of the A-T guns ability to penetrate the Sherman's armour.
Without doubt the 300 Shermans arrived 'just in time' to make all the difference. Without these, there seems little doubt that the British would be back to watching their puny 2pdr shells bounce off the Panzers and then have no option but to 'charge**' the Germans in an effort to get within (in-)effective machine gun range. **the typical British 'cruiser' tanks speed off-road was 15mph, whilst the Panzers could only manage 10-12mph off road. This did not stop the Panzers 'running rings' around the poorly co-ordinated British tanks every time.
El-Alamein also saw the debut of the Allies second 'secret weapon' = the earliest hand-held metal detector !
Designed in Scotland in 1941 by the Polish engineer and signals officer, Lieutenant Jozef Kosacki), the Mine Detector was to be used for the first time in action.
Five hundred of these were issued to Eighth Army. Tests had shown that they doubled the speed at which heavily mined sands could be cleared, from around 100 metres (110 yd) to about 200 metres (220 yd) an hour. The mine-fields at El Alamein averaged 5 miles thick. That's 5 * 1760 = 8800 yards. Clearing these at 220 yards/hr would take 40 hours. However 'The Plan' expected the mines to be cleared during the first night (say 10 hours). Plainly some-one at command level was incapable of performing the most basic of simple arithmetic.
Unfortunately, as with any 'secret weapon' rushed into production, it had its failings = in this case, about 50% of them, in fact.
Even so, it seems that actual mine clearance speed achieved, under fire, at night, turned out to be twice as fast as that achieved in the tests (but still short of the 4x speed The Plan demanded)
The Allies 3rd (not-)secret weapon
Little credit has been given to 3rd weapon that tipped the balance in the Allies favour = the US P-40 'Kittyhawk' ground attack fighter, of which the Allies had almost as many as Spitfires and Hurricanes combined.
Armed with 6 x .5" cannon (at a time when Spitfires wire still armed with the all-but-useless .303) these aircraft could take on, and beat, the Me109 at low altitudes under 10,000 ft (it's performance at high altitudes was poor and mixing it with 109's above 15,000 ft was a quick way to commit suicide)
The .5" cannon made the P40 a good ground attack aircraft, especially against 'soft' targets and even against the weaker top armour of light tanks (such as the Italians and Pz II and III) - and could even damage the Pz IV ! It could also carry 1-3 bombs (to a total of 700lbs). However it's effect as a ground-attack fighter was blunted since, at this stage of the war, the Allies had still not woken up to the German methods of using the Stuka for 'close air support'. There were no radio equipped 'air controllers' with the ground troops, so still no way to direct an air-attack against the German anti-tank guns blocking the British armoured advance. So the Allied ground-attack aircraft either got into dog fights, delivered 'planned' attacks against 'static' targets or flew around more or less at random** seeking 'targets of opportunity'. ** the Allied method was to designate specific areas of the map as 'Axis controlled' allowing the pilots (especialy the Americans) to attack anything they found in that area without warning (or checking). Needless to say, this didn't work too well once battle had started and the terrain changed hands ..
The Allies (Eighth Army) were commanded by the meticulous and ever-patient General Bernard 'Monty' Montgomery, whilst the Axis (Africa Corps and Italians) was commanded by the dynamic and fast thinking "Desert Fox", Erwin Rommel.
Rommel's Africa Corps and Italian allies totalled some thirteen divisions (about 100,000 men) and about five hundred tanks. They had a decent number of anti-tank guns but little artillery. Although Rommel was on sick leave in Germany when the battle started, he had personally planned the defense Montgomery had at least double the number of tanks, over double the number of infantry and anti-tank guns and about 10x the artillery. His army consisted of British, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, and South Africans, together with some French and Greek units.
The Allies achieved air superiority over the battlefield with their 450 (or so) first class fighters. Rommel had more aircraft in total - some 600 - but only 150 serviceable Me109 fighters (out of almost 200). Further, only about 50% of his 400 Italian aircraft were serviceable (although these were largely ineffective anyway). The Allies Spitfires, P40's and Hurricanes were thus able to outnumber Rommel's 109's at 3:1
Despite holding air superiority, the Allied aircraft seem to have been rather ineffective at supporting the ground troops (in so far as Rommel was able to rush his handful of operational Panzers from one part of the front line to the next with minimal interference from the air) Further, on multiple occasions he organised his anti-tank guns into effective 'blocking forces' that took a huge toll of the Allied tanks without being countered by Allied air attacks Finally, the Allies still hadn't worked out that Rommel was recovering and repairing up to 50% of his tanks that had been 'knocked out' = for sure there was no priority given to attacking the German field repair units as they went about their work
Unusually for the desert war both flanks were 'closed', by the Mediterranean to the north and by the Qattara Depression to the south.
So Rommel, who had been expecting the Allied attack for some time, had fortified his forty-mile front line and mined it to a depth of 3-8 miles. However these minefields consisted almost exclusively of anti-tank mines (a fact of which the British were well aware).
The Allies would have no choice but to deliver a frontal attack and break this line if they were to destroy the Axis forces.
The battle would thus be a set-piece affair which suited Montgomery just fine. There could be little opportunity for maneuver and whilst there was no chance of out-flanking Rommal, Rommel would be unable to outflank the Allies and run rings around Monty, as he had done to each of the previous 4 or 5 British generals he had come up against. Montgomery planned an attack starting with an air bombardment and massed artillery fire, followed by a slow methodical advance. Each objective was to be achieved and held against Axis counterattack, until the Axis were exhausted and 'breakout' achieved, after which, it seems, there was no plan to do anything else. Indeed, El Alamein was a battle that could have been planned by any World War I General.
On Oct. 23 1942, the British started their attack, to the far south of the line, near the Quatta Depression, opposite the Italian 132 Armoured Division 'Ariete'. The attack started at 10:00pm (traditionally, an attack would be launched at dawn, however the British needed the cover of darkness to clear the minefields) as over 800 artillery pieces opened fire = legend has it that the noise was so great that the ears of the gunners bled.
As the shells pounded the Axis lines, the British infantry advanced over the anti-tank mines ('lightfoot') and the engineers set about clearing 'lanes' through which the tanks could pass. Their task was made more dangerous by the German use of inter-connected mines (so if one mine was set off, others nearby could also be).
Unfortunately for the Axis, Rommel was in hospital, back in Germany, when the battle started. So whilst he had planned the defenses, the initial German reaction was slower than it might have been - especially when his temporary 'fill in', General Georg von Stumme, died of a heart attack as the battle raged on the first day !
Lightfoot called for 'lanes' at least 24 feet wide to be cleared and for the Allied tanks to be out of the minefields by dawn.
As usual, 'wishful thinking' had prevailed .. yes, the Engineers had their 'secret weapon' (the first mine (metal) detectors) = however at least half of these failed for one reason or another, so many mines had to be cleared by hand (in the old way of probing the ground in front with a bayonet) In fact it seems that 'on average' the Engineers managed to clear mines twice as fast as the 'tests' had shown, however the following morning the Infantry were still only about half way through the minefield (with the tanks coming up behind them) Worse, as pressure had mounted to more forward faster, inevitably the 'cleared width' had shrunk, to the point where a single non-moving tank could hold up all the tanks behind it = and none of the British tanks were any more reliable than the first 'batch' of US Shermans (which that had been rushed into production) and of which about 10% had broken down whilst moving to the 'start line' ! So, on the morning of the 24th, the ensuing traffic jams made easy targets for the German gunners firing into the minefields from up to 2km away with the feared '88'. Lucky (for the Allies) the Germans had very few 88's (or the Allies might have lost most of their vital battle-winning Shermans that first day)
During the next night the Engineers managed to clear at least one 'lane' and by the morning of the 25th at least some of the Allied tanks were through the main minefields and deploying some six miles beyond the original front.
On the 25th the British armour made mincemeat of the Italian 'Ariete' division and were trading casualties with the 21st Panzer Div.
Rommel, ordered back to Africa by Hitler, reached the front on the evening of the 25th, however by then, at least half his armour had been lost
Nevertheless, on the 26th he was able to re-organise the German A-T guns into an effective defense. These took a heavy toll of the British armour as they continued to advance along the 'lanes' through the minefields the following day (27th). Indeed, the anti-tank guns were so effective that the British attack stalled. This, of course, could never have happened to Rommel = his tank commanders would have called in the Stuka dive-bombers to take out the enemy guns. Lucky for Rommel - who only had 24 Flak88's - the British tank commanders had no such capability.
Monty blamed his chief of tanks, Lumsden, and gave him a simple ultimatum = move forward or be replaced by someone more energetic. But the rate of attrition of the Allied tank forces was too great.
The attack on the southern sector was called off by Montgomery, not Lumsden, who ordered the tanks back. When Churchill heard, he was furious as he believed that Montgomery was letting victory 'slip away' (Churchill had instant access to the 'raw' Ultra intercepts, so knew Rommel had lost many tanks and was now outnumbered 5:1, whilst Monty received 'sanitised' reports somewhat later).
The Australians attack
Montgomery now ordered the Australian units to launch an attack along the Mediterranean coast. The Australians took many casualties but their attack was to change the course of the battle.
To counter this threat, Rommel rushed his Panzers north. He had been expecting the main thrust of Montgomery's attack would be along the coast, so when it stated he concentrated his Panzers to the far north and held them there to await the Allied tanks.
On 2nd November, as the Australians fought on, Monty launched 'Supercharge' with a seven-hour aerial bombardment focused on Tel el Aqqaqir and Sidi Abd el Rahman, followed by a four and a half hour barrage of 360 guns
The British and New Zealander infantry were able to clear lanes through the minefields, to the south of the Australians and Rommel, more or less unhindered as the Australians kept Tommel occupied. So Rommel was taken by surprise when 123 tanks of the British 9th Armoured Brigade broke through to the south of his Panzers and attacked the Axis infantry who had been left to hold that part of the line. But just as it looked as if the British tanks were going to achieve a decisive break-through an outflank the Panzers facing the Australians, a sandstorm blew up. Many of the tanks got lost and became easy targets for the German anti-tank guns (and especially the Flak88), which were able knock out some 75% of the 9th Brigade tanks !
By the end of the first week of the offensive the British had lost four times as many tanks as the Germans = however they still had 800 available tanks whilst was down to his last 90 Panzers.
By the evening of the 2nd Nov, Rommel was no longer strong enough to withstand the waves of Allied tanks, knew he was beaten and started to plan his withdrawal. After maintaining resistance throughout the day of 3rd Nov (and awaiting 'permission' from Hitler to withdraw), at dawn on the 4th Rommel ordered the remaining Panzers to retreat to a new defensive position at Fuka (Fukah)
However the afternoon of that day (Nov 4) Hitler finally responded and issued one of his infamous 'No retreat, fight to the last man' orders. It took Rommel 36 hours to get the order lifted and the time lost cost Rommel his chance of making a stand at Fuka.
By the time Rommel managed to pull out his forces, he had lost all his Italians allies as part of the 25,000 killed and wounded, or captured whilst trying to escape on foot (the Germans having taken all the available transport). The Allies lost 13,000.
Even with the 36 hour delay, the Allied forces were too exhausted to follow up with any speed (Rommel had always been able to 'run rings' around any Allied General and Montgomery was no exception)
Much criticism has been aimed at Monty over Rommel's escape, however the plain fact is that the Allied forces were simply incapable of moving with any aort of speed and for sure not the sort of speed necessary to catch Rommel. The Germans incorporated logistics and support elements into their combat troop commands, whilst the Allies kept such things separate. So when the Allied tanks ran out of fuel, they had no option but to wait until their commanders managed to get orders issued to some pen-pusher in the rear who had control over the re-fueling trucks .... The Germans knew that there was no massive 'logistics train' waiting to supply them, so when a Panzer ran out of fuel the commander simply 'requisitioned' whatever was available nearby (after El Alamein, that usually meant syphoning the nearest Italian tank at gun point) A fortnight after the end of the battle, Rommel had been pushed his remaining Panzers 700 miles west (to Agheila) in stages. Each time the Allies caught up, Rommel was able to fall back again, to another defensive position, even recovering (and repairing) some of the Panzers lost on the way .. After three weeks, he had retreated a further 200 miles to Buerat (al-Bu'ayrat) and then, in three more weeks (to mid-January 1943), an additional distance of 350 miles (past Tripoli to the Mareth Line) to just within the frontiers of Tunisia. By that time the Axis position in Tunisia was being attacked from the west by the "Operation Torch" landings which sealed the fate of the remaining Axis forces.
In February 1943, Rommel gave the US 1st Armored Regiment a lesson at the Kasserine Pass.
The US training and tactics proved totally inadequate - the Shermans famously attacking Rommels 88's head-on (with predictable results).
It was also at Kasserine that the Americans first encoutered the Tiger tank. However Rommel's main tank was the long 50mm gunned Panzer III !! These fought, with some success, against the 75mm armed Sherman, a fact that seems to have been overlooked by the Americans as they focussed on 'Tiger phobia'.
Rommel received 20 Tigers between Nov '42 and Jan '43, however he never had more than 11 Tigers operational at any one time. Yet their effect was out of all proportion to their numbers - at Kasserine, just 6 Tiger tanks destroyed 55 allied tanks (and over a hundred other vehicles). However at Kasserine, the Shermans mostly fought the Panzer III's supporting the Tigers. Since the Pz III's gave the Shermans such a hard fight, the Americans should have been more concerned about what would happen when they ran into the much more numerous Panzer IV, ratheer than panic about the rare Tiger ! The British, who also believed the reports of Tiger performance from the Russian front, finally woke up to the need for a tank gun that could take on any German tank 'at range' and insisted on fitting the 17pdr (the British '88') to as many of their Shermans as possible. The British Sherman 'Firefly' was ready just in time for D-Day. For some reason the Americans, despite building the Firefly for the British, decided this was an 'unnecessary' change for their own tank forces. Other than 'not invented here' it's hard to see why they would not want a better tank gun, although (at least initially) as usual there was no HE ammunituon to be had for the British gun. One US 'rational' quoted (after the war) was that 'there are so few Tigers that the chances of encountering one was too low to worry about' (although what the US tank commanders were expected to do should they run into one (other than die trying to get within 200m, the distance at which their pathetic 75mm gun had some chance of penetrating the Tiger armour) was not stated). At a distance (and especially through tank gun-sight periscopes), the 'boxy' nature of the long 75mm armed Pz IV turret looks a lot like that of the Tiger 1, which, no doubt, added to 'Tiger Terror' as the US tank crew saw Tigers 'everywhere'. Of course the Pz IV's long 75mm gun was quite capable of killing the Sherman at a distance where shells from the Sherman's short 75mm gun would still be bounding off the Pz IV, so their fears were not unjustified However that's another story ...
Montgomery had carefully built up the 8th Army to a 2:1 numerical superiority over the Axis forces. With the arrival the 6-pounder anti-tank guns, Sherman tanks and Spitfires, the British had finally eliminated Rommel's technological superiority.
In fact, the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF were so superior to those of the Axis mainly Italian aircraft, that the Allies enjoyed local air superiority over much of the battlefield (even if not total Air Supremacy)
Unfortunately, at this stage of the war (some 3 years after the Stuka led the way into Poland), the Allies still lacked any comprehension of how to use their aircraft to support the ground forces during actual combat. Almost every air attack was 'preplanned', which, given the fluid nature of battle (and especially the speed with which Rommel moved his tanks around) meant that many 'targets' could not be found, having moved from where they were when the attack was planned hours (if not days) ago. This limited air-strikes to 'static' targets, such as enemy airfields, dug-in defences and supply dumps, although the RAF did target 'known tank concentration areas' and supply truck convoys (which had to stick to the roads) to good effect.
Montgomery's restructured 8th Army launched a two-pronged attack. The first phase, "Operation Lightfoot", started with a powerful artillery and air bombardment, followed by an infantry "attack" at night to clear lanes through the anti-tank minefields (hence 'lighfoot'). The plan was for the infantry to clear the mines overnight so that the second phase, an attack by the armoured divisions, could be launched in the morning
Mine clearing took much longer than expected (of course - what with it being rather dark and both the Axis and Allied artillery dropping shells all over the place) so the allied tank attack made slow progress. The battle swung back and forth for over a week, with Rommel rushing his Panzers from one part of the front to the next in order to stop one threatened breakthrough after another. Casualties were high on both sides and at one time it even looked as if Montgomery would have to call a halt as the Allies became exhausted after making almost continuous attacks
In the end, both sides lost about 500 tanks, however that was only 50% of the Allies (who could replace them without too much trouble) but 90% of the Axis tanks (who had no chance of replacements)
By the evening of 3rd of November, Rommel was down to only 30 serviceable Panzers (out of the 249 with which he started the battle). Overnight, Rommel's recovery and repair engineers performed their usual miracles, but by the following day, with only 36 Panzers, he was outnumbered by more then 10:1 and could no longer stop the flood of Allied armour. So, on the 4th of November, Rommel began organising his withdrawal (and cabled Hitler accordingly). His forces were already withdrawing in good order when Hitler issued his usual insane demands of 'no retreat' which caught many units on the move between defensible positions and resulted in mass confusion and fragmentation of the line. The British, having (it seems) no 'plan' in the event of a German withdrawal, appear to have been as surprised by Rommel's retreat as Hitler. So they missed their opportunity in the 36 hrs it took Rommel to have the order lifted, after which it was too late to stop the Africa Corps escaping. The Germans were plagued by supply problems, especially fuel shortages. In fact stories abound of Italian troops being left behind to be taken prisoner as the Germans commandeered their transports - and for sure many Italian tanks were found to have been abandoned when they ran out of fuel. However, the Allies were exhausted and had their own supply problems, which undoubtedly contributed to their lack-luster follow up and allowed the Germans to retreat in good order (and even recover some of their 'lost' tanks).
Even so, victory was secure, prompting Winston Churchill to declare: "This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Later Winston Churchill wrote that "there hadn't been any allied victory before Alamein and there hadn't been a defeat after it".
The Second Battle of El Alamein was the first step on the road to the total Axis defeat in North Africa, when the Axis forces surrendered on 13 May 1943 (yielding over 275,000 prisoners of war).
However at El Alamein, Rommel's army escaped annihilation and slipped away, with the result that the war in the desert dragged on for another 6 months, absorbing men and materials that the Allies could have used in Italy to knock Mussolini out of the war earlier than 8th Sep, 1943 (although the Germans in Italy fought on, prolonging the Italian campaign until May 1945) Indeed, instead of 'Operation Torch' (the Allied landings French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria) on 8 November 1942), with Rommel out of the way and the abysmal state of the Axis defences on the French coast, it might even have been possible to launch 'D Day' in June 1943 (instead of June 1944, a year later, after Rommel had 'beefed up' the 'Atlantic Wall' defences - and after another year of Tiger and Panther tank production).
The Allies deployed 195,000 combatants, 1029 tanks, 435 other armored vehicles, 892 to 908 artillery pieces and 1,451 anti-tank guns. They had 730 to 750 aircraft.
Of these they lost 13,560 combatants (14%), 332 to 500 tanks (30-50%)**, 111 guns (8%) and 97 aircraft (7.5%)
** many 'lost' tanks were easily repaired (although the Allies never adopted the 'over night field repair' approach used by the Germans), making losses hard to calculate (especially as repaired tanks could be 'lost' multiple times before finally being 'written off')
By the time of the Second Battle of El Alamein, the Desert Air Force has 29 squadrons (including nine South African and three USAAF units) flying Boston, Baltimore and Mitchell medium bombers and Hurricane, Kittyhawk, Tomahawk, Warhawk and Spitfire fighters and fighter-bombers. In theory, Monty could call on over 1,500 combat aircraft (more than double the theoretical number of aircraft available to Rommel).
The actual numbers of aircraft that were immediately available was mush smaller than the 'theoretical' strength. Desert conditions were so harsh that over 50% of aircraft would be in need of servicing and repair at any one time. 48x servicable Supermarine Spitfire 176x servicable Hawker Hurricane 203x (of which only 170? were servicable) P-40 'Kittyhawk' (and Tomahawk, Warhawk) fighter/ground attack aircraft (with 6x .5" mg's, these could take on, and beat, Me109's at low altitude) 158 medium bombers (Baltimores and B25's)
The Allies had over 1,000 tanks ready for action (plus at least 200 available as 'ready replacements'). There were also huge numbers of tanks in various stages of repair, overhaul and modification within workshops (some accounts have suggest as many as 800 !).
The 1,029 tanks known to have started the battle are :- 180x Lee/Grant, armour 51/38/38, hull-mounted M2 75L31 + turret 37L56 (which had better armour penetration than the 75L31 !) 252x Sherman, armour 50(sloped)/38/38 (turret 50 all round), 75L31 gun, road: 21-24 mph the 8th Army received '300' Shermans but it seems 48 broke down (and could be be repaired in time) before the start of the battle 119x M3 Stuart (Honey), armour 38/25/25, 37L56, road: 36mph 194x Valentine, armour 65/??/8, 2pdr (40L52), road: 15mph 216x Crusader II, armour** 49/??/??, 2pdr (40L52) gun (some with 3 inch howitzer), road: 26 mph, off-road: 15 mph 76 (or 78)x Crusader III, armour** 49/??/??, 6pdr (57mm) gun, road: 26 mph, off-road: 15 mph Churchill mkIII = x6 (with increased armor and a new 6 pdr (57mm) main gun) Matilda "Scorpion" = x25, field modified Matildas [2pdr (40mm) gun] fitted with an anti-mine flail **these were built from cheap riveted armour (rather than cast or welded), which led to higher crew casualties (as the rivets sheared off and 'bounced around' the interior of the tank, even when shot failed to penetrate the armour)
American built tank details are from http://afvdb.50megs.com
Allied Artillery and Anti-tank guns
834x 25pdr (87L27) - note this gun did have an A-T capability (muzel velocity about 600m/s), but was mostly used as artillery (HE) 48 'medium' guns = assume these are the 3.7" AA guns being used in an artillery (HE) role 554x 2 pounder anti-tank guns 849x 6 pounder anti-tank guns
The Axis forces consisted of some 116,000 men, 547 tanks (of which only 249 were German Panzers, the rest being Italian), 192 other armored vehicles, 552 artillery units and 496 anti-tank guns. They had 770 to 900 aircraft, however most of these were ineffectual Italian craft and they were unable to deny the Allies local air superiority over the battlefield.
The Axis forces lost 30,542 combatants (26%), around 500 tanks (90%), 254 guns (44%) and 84 aircraft (10%).
Units: 15th Pzr Div (8th Pz Reg) 21st Pz Div (5th Pz Reg) Italian Motorised XX Corps, comprising :- Italian 101 Motorised Division Trieste Italian 132 Armoured Division Ariete, light/medium tanks Italian 133 Armoured Division Littorio, light/medium tanks Note that all the Italian tanks and motor transport were lost either during the battle or during the retreat (when they ran out of fuel, the Germans having requisitioned the lot)
195 German (150 serviceable) 80 Stuka dive bombers 400 Italian (200 serviceable) Rommel had call on a further 225 (130 serviceable) German bombers based in Italy and Greece. He also had access to 300 German and Italian transport aircraft
About half of the Africa Corps tanks were effective Panzers (Rommel had a mixed collection of partly up-gunned and up-armoured Panzer III's and IV's) with about 10% Panzer II and the rest consisting of various Italian tanks.
Since the Germans translate 'tank' as 'AFV' (armoured fighting vehicle), we find S-P (self propelled) guns (and even armoured cars) listed as 'tanks'. A further problem with counting 'available' tanks is the efficiency of the German recovery and repair teams - tanks were always breaking down and being 'knocked out' (with track or other non-fatal damage) and these were always being recovered, repaired, and returned to the front line. In fact, 'on average', about half of the tanks 'knocked out' in a battle were repaired and back at the front within 2 weeks, with many - especially those with track damage (about the only way for the puny 2pdr to 'stop' a Panzer) - being repaired overnight and back in action the following morning !
Rommel had at least 249 'Panzers' (German AFVs) :- 31x Panzer II (MG, 20mm cannon), 85x Panzer III , 50L42 gun, road 25mph, off-road 12 mph 88x Panzer III (with extra armor), 50L60 gun, a further 10 PzIII were in the process of being up-armoured and up-gunned 8x Panzer IV, short 75L24 gun, 16mph road, 10mpg off 30x Panzer IV-F2, 75L43 gun 7 command tanks (most likely Pz III, usually fitted with a dummy main gun) A further 23 German tanks were undergoing repair at the start of the battle, some of which which would become available later. ?x Marder tank destroyers (captured Russian 76.2mm guns mounted on a Panzer 38t chassis). At least 298 Italian AFVs :- 278x Fiat M13/40 / M14/41 (medium), 47L32mm (AT & HE) gun, armour 30/25/14 (Turret front: 37 mm), 20mph road / 8mph off-road (the M13/40 and M14/41 were virtually identical, the main difference being slightly better gun (47L40), slightly heaver armour (Turret front: 42 mm) and a slightly more powerful engine giving the M14/41 22mph road, 10 mph off-road) 20x 'light tanks', assumed to be the L6/40, 20mm Breda modello 35 cannon, 30//6 (40mm turret front and gun mantlet), 26mph road / off-road (the quality of its armour plate often proved superior to the larger and heavier M13/40) ?x 75/18 SPG = 'a few', low velocity 75L18mm 'howitzer' type gun
The Axis started with a huge disadvantage in tank numbers. In terms of their most effective tank - the Pz IV-f2 V's - they had only 30 v's the Allied 'equivalent' of some 300 Shermans, so were outnumbered 10:1 !
However the Germans 'recovery and repair' engineers, often working under fire, worked miracles of repair during the battle. Many tanks 'knocked out' each day were 'patched up' overnight and back in the battle the following day.
Axis Anti-tank guns
In the desert, most Allied tanks were lost to the Axis A-T guns, not Axis tanks. Rommel's favourite tactic was to grab some poorly defended 'feature' (say, small hill) with his tanks, then bring up his A-T guns and await the inevitable British counter-attack. This would be met 'head on' by his A-T guns whilst his tanks would 'turn the flank' thereby giving his A-T guns an even easier target as the British tanks presented their side armour as they turned to face the Panzers.
Anti-tank guns (approx 450) 290x PAK38 50L60 anti-tank gun, 8 to 24x FLAK 88mm were employed as A-T gun (the rest as AA) 68x PaK 36(r) 76.2mm anti-tank guns (captured Soviet AT guns) 16x 76.2mm Sfl (Diana) (Ru guns on SP mounts) 'A quantity' of Italian 47 mm guns (equiv 2pdr) = assume 50 Rommel also used captured British guns (he even had 4x 6pdrs !) Artillery (approx 89) 4x 100mm K17 24x "100mm" German howitzers (probably 105mm) 8x 150mm howitzers 4x 150mm heavy infantry guns 8x 150mm howitzer Sfl (SP guns) 41x other Italian guns
The game is best played in 'hot seat' mode (i.e. 2 human players) - 'second best' is to let the AI play as the Axis
The AI only knows how to attack - so if playing the Allies it will launch unrealistic simultaneous attacks all across the front, whilst if playing the Axis it will rush it's forces from one 'threat' to the next (more or less as Rommel did on the day)
Artillery and guns
Crimson Fields does not allow you to set 'attack' values against specific enemy units = all you can set is an 'attack' against a unit 'type' (Ground, Sea, Air). This creates a problem with the British 2pdr/6pdr gun - it needs one attack against armoured targets (using AT ammunition) but a second value (essentially, 0, since it has no HE capability) against 'soft' targets. Further, British tanks can fire at 'long range' against enemy tanks but must get to close range to use their machine guns on soft targets (such as enemy infantry and anti-tank guns)
The 'trick' is to note that whilst aircraft played a part in the battle, ships did not. So we can 're-purpose' the 'ship' type. All Axis tanks are defined as both 'ground' and 'ship' (tanks won't 'set sail' up the coast because they don't have any 'terrain=water' permissions). The British 2pdr/6pdr anti-tank guns get an 'attack' value against 'ships' (Axis tanks) and a (very small) value against 'ground' (being the gunners personal weapons) British tanks armed with 2pdr/6pdr and machine guns, get one (ranged) attack against 'ships' (for the 2pdr/6pdr) and a second attack value (for the machine guns) against 'ground'.
The German 88 was a 'tank killer' but took time to set-up, so it's defined as 'slow' (i.e. can't move and fire in the same turn)
Yes, it would be more 'realistic' to define a 'tow truck' (transporter), however the AI has no idea of how to 'load' and 'carry' units to the front, so would leave it's 88's sitting on the 'start line'
The anti-tank minefield
The existing Crimson Field 'mine' Unit can be used, just coloured 'sandy'. Since units can't be crossed by other units and have to be 'destroyed' (by being attacked by enemy units without fighting back) they will act exactly as required
Of course, in 'real life', the Infantry could cross the anti-tank minefield (you could even send your tanks across if you were willing to accept losses), however this was not a choice taken at El Alamein.
Unfortunately, the AI will regard all mines as 'enemy units needing to be destroyed', so won't focus of clearing 'lanes' through the minefield
To force the AI to focus on 'lanes', a new 'sandy mine' terrain tile has to be created, with a 'move' cost of 99 i.e. impassible to all ground units (it can't just be set to 'no move' because that would prevent aircraft overflight) The minefields will thus be made up of 'sandy mine' tiles with 'lanes' of normal sand tiles onto which 'sandy mine' units are placed.
The Axis get a number of 'Mobile Repair' units (transporters with crystals and a 'medic' type)
Transport 'slots' and 'min' / 'max' weight limits are used to limit repair to one tank at a time
In addition to the normal 'sandy' tiles ('plains') and Qattara Depression tiles (impassible to all), a 'mine-field' tile is defined that can only be crossed (slowly) by infantry.
The 'lanes' where the 'mine' (units) are 'laid' will consist of 'normal' sandy tiles. Once the 'mine' unit has been destroyed, tanks can then cross the minefields but only on the 'normal' sandy tiles
The battle field was about 72km (45 miles) from the Mediterranean coast to the Qattara Depression. Using a ground scale of 500m (0.5km) per hex we get a map height of 150 hex's - and a width of about half that (80). The Axis minefields were laid in bands of up to 6km (12 hexs) wide, however most were 'about' half that (5-7 hex's)
Infanrty can cross the mine-field at a speed of 1 hex per turn. This limits mine-clearing of the 'designated lanes' to no more than 1 hex per turn (there's a good chance it will be slower)
The longest range anti-tank gun, the German Flak 88, could knock out any allied tank at 2km, so a maximum range of 5 hex's (2.5km) would not be unrealistic (CF takes the range into account when applying 'attack' values). This gets us the following ranges for other guns :- 150mm and above Artillery, 7 hex's 100mm Artillery, 6 hex's 88mm, 5 hex's 75/76mm, 4 hex's, 6pdr/50mm, 3 hex's 2pdr/37mm, 2 hex's Machine guns/infantry, 1 hex
To get a 'reasonable' number of units of each type without overwhelming the player (or crimson.exe) is difficult. Taking into account the number of 88's (24), PzIV's (30) and Shermans (252) I ended up with a scale of 'about' 15:1
This gives Rommel 2x 88's, 2x PzIV's and the Allies 17 Shermans as the most 'significant' units. With over 1,000 tanks, the Allies will have 67 tank units in total, whilst the Axis get 37. To avoid overwhelming the players, the Infantry counts are limited to 2x the tank (so Allies 134, Axis 74) The Allies get 4 Spitfires + 15 Hurricanes + 11 P40's, the Axis get 8 109's, 4 Stuka, 16 Italian note that the Spits and P40's 'beat' the 109's, whilst the 109's 'beat' the Hurricane's, but the margins are low. The Spit. and Me109 have (essentially) 0 ground attack, the Hurricane and P40 more so. The Stuka has good ground attack but both it and the Italians are slow with poor 'armour', so can be shot up by any Allied aircraft). Using the same scale (and grouping some of the artillery pieces together to make the 'count') I get Allies 36x 2pdr, 56x 6pdr & 50 artillery, Axis 30x AT & 6x artillery. These numbers would 'unbalance' the play (take focus away from the tanks), so I arbitrarily halved them (which means the Axis player gets a single '88 unit, so he had better take good care of it !)
When playing Rommel, your task is to 'give Monty a bloody nose' whilst preserving as many of your panzers as possible
Note that the Italian aircraft will always be beaten at 1:1 odds - however using them in a supporting role (together with the 109) will tip the odds in your favour
The only real way to play Monty is in 'hot seat' mode, with another human player as Rommel (the AI, playing the Axis, is no competition). To 'win' against the other human, you have to wipe out 100% of the Axis forces AND loose fewer units overall
This means the human playing Rommel 'wins' if he manages to destroy more of Monty's units before being wiped out
As with most Crimson games, both sides have a 'HQ' the loss of which ends the game Rommel gets 2 Mobile Repair units plus he can repair tanks and aircraft at his HQ. Monty gets one 'Repair Depot'. Neither side can build new units, and neither side gets any reinforcements
Winning and loosing
The Allies gain 2pts for each panzer unit destroyed, 1pt for each other Axis unit and 100pts for taking Rommels HQ.
The Axis gain 1pt for each Allied unit destroyed (the Allied HQ is off the map, so can't be taken).
The first side to 100 pts 'wins'
Next page :- CF El Alamein map